All good things must come to an end.
Love it or hate it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has changed how the film industry produces movies. Since Iron Man launched the MCU in 2008, Marvel has released another 15 live-action movies, earning them a shade under $5 billion at the domestic box office. And that’s not including the MCU’s litter of television and streaming service offspring like Inhumans, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil. What’s most remarkable about the MCU is how consistently it churns out critical and commercial successes — in 16 outings Marvel has yet to drop a box office dud. Despite the MCU running like a well-oiled machine, there are major changes on the way. In an interview with Uproxx, Marvel studio head Kevin Feige made several comments regarding the end of the MCU as we know it.
The MCU unfolds in phases. Every few years, plots in the disparate films build towards a major crisis that brings each series’ star characters together for a crossover movie event. These crossover movies serve to close one major chapter in the MCU and set up the next. The MCU is currently building towards the end of Phase Three, and it’s here where things get complicated.
The multi-phase model is ideal for comic books, or animation, where entire rosters of characters are just a pen stroke away. But in Hollywood, actors aren’t always available for shoots, they age out of roles, and their contracts expire. Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Pratt are all huge stars who have ambitions that extend beyond the MCU. And if there was ever a time that made sense for Marvel’s core roster of actors to jump ship, it would be at the end of Phase Three.
Feige discussed the build-up to the end of Phase Three and what happens next,
“Well, all I’ll say is the films we are working on now – which take us through to the Avengers Untitled in May of 19 – that’s really all we are focusing on. And we are focusing on bringing, by that point, an unprecedented, 22-movie, continuous shared fictional narrative to a conclusion in a satisfying way.”
There’s a couple of ways to read this statement. Either Feige doesn’t want to diminish Phase Three by selling us on how great Phase Four will be or the MCU as we know it is coming to an end. Based on this statement alone I would say it’s most likely the former. It’s Feige’s next comment where things get interesting.
“And where we go beyond that? Of course we will go places beyond that. And, of course, we have ideas of where we go beyond that. But, really, it is all good stories. And as the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation said, ‘All good things must come to an end.’ And part of what makes them special, there is a finite quality to the best of fictional stories through history. And we wanted to do that at the end of our first three phases and 22 movies. How we start anew and wherever we go beyond that is a story for another time. This is really about 10 years on, bringing something to a head in a satisfying and unexpected way.”
Marvel has sold us on big changes coming at the end of the last two phases but this time things feel different. Audiences are growing cynical of shared universe franchises and Marvel’s actors are wary of resigning for the multi-year commitments their respective series require. The MCU as we know it can’t last forever and a drastic change at the end of Phase Three would be the most comic booky way Marvel could wrap things up.
So what would this mean for the next generation of Marvel movies? If Marvel is on top of their game the transition past Phase Three will be earth-shattering, controversial, and renew interest in their aging franchises. In comic books, when stories and characters grow long in the tooth, companies mix things up by rebooting their brand’s continuities; think of the process as like what happened during The Flash’s ‘Flashpoint’ storyline last year. We would still have all the same characters we know and love — Hulk, Captain America, The Black Widow — but they would have new origin stories, different personalities, and could be played by a new set of actors.
Marvel has a megaton bomb up their sleeve in their character Thanos and his pursuit of the Infinity Stones (the most powerful forces in the MCU). The Infinity Stones have the ability to reshape reality, and they’re the loophole Marvel can use to reboot their universe. New MCU additions like Bree Larson as Captain Marvel and Tom Holland as Spider-Man can stick around for the next decade while younger and cheaper actors slip into Tony Stark’s armor and Hulk’s giant purple pants.